Better Return on Investment virtually with no RISC?

Non-x86 RISC architectures, Power or SPARC, have been used in high end business critical virtualization solutions for a long while now. These come with a vertical stack of solution including the hardware, software, manageability tools and services provided by one vendor. This often leads to lock-in to the proprietary virtualization solution and services, and can be expensive from an end user perspective.

There are reasons why companies that can afford RISC based solutions have subscribed to it. This has been mainly due to Reliability, Availability and Serviceability (RAS) features, scalability and dedicated resources for quality of service (QoS) and isolation.

The world of virtualization however has significantly changed in the last 5 years. x86 based hardware and software products today offer well accepted and high performance virtualization solution. With the eminent availability of highly scalable and resilient Nehalem-EX products with 16-threads per socket and extensive RAS capabilities in the near future, the line between an expensive RISC solution and x86 based virtualization solution could blur further.

From an end user’s perspective, Nehalem-EX could provide sufficient capabilities that they have come to expect out of a RISC based virtualization infrastructure. Looking at it:

  • Hardware partitioning of Nehalem-EX platform would be possible. Along with this OS virtualization and full commercial hypervisor support for logical partitioning already exists on Xeon processors.
  • Nehalem-EX hardware infrastructure allows software ecosystem to deliver capacity on demand. For example extra CPU capacity can be dynamically added as needed. Moreover VM migration and policy based load balancing capabilities that already exist in commercial hypervisors complement this and provides IT easy methods to manage capacity at the datacenter level.
  • Memory can be dedicated by not oversubscribing the available physical memory.
  • CPUs can be dedicated by creating CPU affinity.
  • Dedicated I/O assignment is possible using VT for Directed I/O. It can also restrict DMA access from devices to certain areas in memory, increasing isolation and system reliability.
  • Single Root IO Virtualization feature would be available as part of Intel VT for connectivity in the networking devices. This allows a single NIC to be shared amongst multiple VMs directly, while isolating the traffic from a NIC queue to a VM for better reliability. Per VM bandwidth allocation can also be supported.
  • Nehalem EX adds virtualization feature that could help increase VM performance in a processor oversubscribed environment with high system utilization.
  • Nehalem-EX will add new reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) such as Machine Check Architecture (MCA) Recovery that allows error detection, error recovery and VM isolation.
  • Inherent power technologies in the CPU, Turbo mode, and Dynamic Power Node Manager for system wide power capping all deliver IT the essential keys to balance power and performance.

While Nehalem-EX measures up to the infrastructure needs, it also enables horizontal solution that would allow customers to take advantage of best of breed software from the virtualization ecosystem thus reducing lock-in. This could result in faster innovation leading to an array of choices for business critical virtualization.

Based on, a Power virtualization solution with Power6 based 4 Socket P550 box (~$93,000) and PowerVM Enterprise Edition for large system ($1,969 per core, with $220 per year on the maintenance) will totally cost an enterprise $109,000, just in one server acquisition.

While pricing of NHM-EX 4S system is not available, approximating a cost using current 4-Socket Intel server pricing and commercial VMM software would suggest that Intel based solution could cost at-least 50% less in just infrastructure. Other savings like not requiring specialized RISC based hardware, services, solution and staff would add to the lower cost of ownership in the long run.

Given the economy and Nehalem-EX features, would it not make sense to take RISC out of your investment?